To consider the report of the Director City Development.
The Leader reported that the Extraordinary Meeting of Council had been called to enable a submission to be made to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) by the closing date of 14 August, for an additional £250 million available to Local Authorities for a second round of the Local Authority Housing Fund for the financial year 2023-24. It was intended that the additional funding would be used to purchase housing for those households who have come to the UK from Afghanistan through the Afghan Resettlement Scheme. The additional funding comprised two elements; the Resettlement element and the Temporary Accommodation (TA) element. Exeter City Council had provisionally been identified as eligible for £670,000 capital grant funding to purchase a minimum of five homes, with a minimum of four homes for the resettlement element and a minimum of one home for the TA element.
The homes would be used to relieve some of the pressure in move-on from the bridging hotels (Afghan refugees) and the TA element would be used as temporary accommodation for homeless households in Exeter. Once these resettlement needs had been met, the longer term use of the houses would be for determination by the Council for other housing needs and homelessness relief.
As with other affordable housing provision, there was an expectation that the Council would part fund/finance some of the required capital. In order to secure this capital grant funding, it was estimated that the Council would need to contribute £807,500 which would be available from Section 106 funding. Full details of the purpose of the funding, terms and reporting and monitoring arrangements were set out in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Exeter City Council were attached to the report.
Members supported the proposals and made the following comments:-
· the decision to support the funding application was entirely appropriate and the recommendations should be supported in view of the experiences faced by those who have been displaced, be it by war, persecution, atrocity or invasion, and that in making a reasoned judgement for those residents that the Council represent that the decision to support the funding application was appropriate.
· the city has welcomed and offered support to refugees and those individuals and families under the Afghanistan Resettlement Scheme. The Member acknowledged those people had put their lives at risk in supporting the British Forces in Afghanistan, and it was important to support these families who were now at risk of becoming homeless due to the loss of their temporary hotel accommodation.
· the scheme will provide much needed safe and secure homes for those refugees who have experienced great trauma.
The Portfolio Holder for Council Housing Development and Support Services supported the application and responded to a Member’s comment confirming that the accommodation would be offered with a standard tenancy agreement that would ensure equality with other tenants in the area. She agreed with the Member that she hoped that those moving from bridging hotel accommodation would become long term tenants.
The Portfolio Holder for Communities and Homelessness Prevention also welcomed the report and urged Members to vote for the proposals for the Council to make an application for this funding. In boosting the Council’s housing stock, it would also have short as well as longer term benefits. It was right to offer such support as was necessary to those families from Afghanistan that had placed themselves at risk.
The Portfolio Holder responded to the following Members’ comments:-
· he was confident that the Council was on track to carry out the statutory duty to make sure these families as part of the Afghanistan Resettlement Scheme would not be made homeless. He added that many who have come to the city have also been able to secure their own homes through work or family connections.
· funding achieved for the previous scheme, approved in March, had been put to good use and the Director City Development and his team had worked hard through their negotiations to achieve the best value and maximise the number of properties acquired and would do so again.
The Leader welcomed the informative debate and was proud that such schemes would allow Exeter to continue its proud heritage as a city of sanctuary. He moved and Councillor Wright seconded the recommendations and following a vote, the recommendations were carried unanimously.
(1) acceptance of the full allocation of £670,000 in Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) grant funding;
(2) the purchase of (five) properties to be held in the Housing Revenue Account;
(3) the funding of the Council’s Capital contribution through £807,500 of available Section 106 funds;
(4) the identification and purchase of suitable properties to let to eligible households using introductory tenancies for the first year and fixed term tenancies for up to five years;
(5) the rents being set at affordable rates in accordance with the provisions of the Memorandum of Understanding between DLUHC and Exeter City Council and the DLUHC recommended rental funding model Rent Standard - April 2023;
(6) the MOU (Appendix 1) be signed for return to DLUHC by the 14 August 2023 confirming the Council’s participation in the programme; and
(7) the Director of City Development and Housing and the relevant Portfolio Holder be given delegated authority to proceed with the acquisitions and to amend the number of properties purchased in line with the agreement above and including where additional Government grant may become available (provided that no further capital contribution is required from Exeter City Council).